ISLAMABAD: The Establishment Division has refused to make public details of assets owned by powerful bureaucracy, saying this is a labourious and time-consuming task which does not fall within its purview and disclosure of their assets will jeopardise interests of civil servants.
The Establishment Division has challenged the order of the Pakistan Information Commission (PIC) which has sought disclosure of details of assets owned by civil servants, particularly officers of powerful service cadres such as the Pakistan Administrative Service and Police Service of Pakistan.
In a petition filed in the Islamabad High Court (IHC), the Establishment Division has stated that the information sought is general as the term ‘government officer’ includes everyone working in federal ministries, divisions, autonomous and semi-autonomous bodies and allied departments and even officials posted abroad.
IHC moved against information commission’s order
“Maintenance of such a data is not the responsibility of the Establishment Division under the rules of business. Further, collection of huge data from the quarters concerned is quite time-consuming,” the petition says.
It contends that the requisite information is not “public record” as only a “decision and final orders” passed in relation to civil servants may be treated as public record.
The Establishment Division claims that the details civil servants have provided in the assets declaration form cannot be disclosed under the Right of Access to Information Act.
Subsequently, it requests the IHC to set aside the commission’s order.
On a petition of a concerned citizen, Nadeem Umar, the PIC last month directed the Establishment Division’s public information officer “to provide the following requested information to the applicant, with intimation to this commission, within 10 working days of the receipt of this order”.
The petitioner sought details of assets declarations, list of officers, their designations and current postings, the names of officers whose promotion was halted due to non-submission of asset details, and the list of officers, with their designations and current posting data, who had never submitted their assets declaration during their service tenure.
The petition also inquired if “it is a fact that the Establishment Division has decided not to promote those officers who are not submitting their asset declarations” and whether “the Establishment Division conducted any inquiry/inquiries regarding the increase in assets of the officers”.
The petitioner also sought “list of the cases, or list of the officers, whose cases are sent to any agency for verification regarding the increase in their assets, along with the details of their current status”.
The PIC, comprising Chief Information Commissioner Mohammad Azam and Information Commissioners Zahid Abdullah and Fawad Malik, issued a notice to the Establishment Division which did not respond to it.
Subsequently, the commission passed an ex-parte order.
The commission maintained that public interest outweighed any harm to privacy of the civil servants who had failed to fulfill their obligation of submitting details of their assets.
The PIC held that “it is only through the disclosure of the requested information that citizens of Pakistan who pay taxes for, inter alia, the salaries of civil servants, will be able to know the names, designations and number of officers who are not fulfilling their obligation of submitting their assets declaration; frequency and duration of the failure on their part in submitting assets declaration; and action taken, if any, by the Establishment Division against the officers who failed to submit their assets declaration”.
Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2021